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When Positivity Becomes Toxic

Hey Party People,

If you’ve spent some time in the personal development space you won’t be surprised to learn that there is an intense focus on being positive, reaching for joy, and practicing gratitude. This blog itself is called the Attitude is Gratitude, and I’ve taken a deeper look at what gratitude means for me and my platform after gaining insight into this week's topic – Toxic Positivity!

I always strive to be conscious of how I am showing up in my posts and do my best to share from an authentic space. I want to own that life isn’t always sunshine and butterflies but that it can also be chaotic and uncertain. That’s real, but at the same time, it's really easy to get caught up in the culture of positivity because we think that’s what people want and need to hear. That might not be entirely true.

Ok, so what is toxic positivity?? Toxic positivity is a forced or false portrayal that everything in life is peachy keen. It shows up when we are pretending to be happy or when we push them harder feelings aside. This isn’t a healthy practice because it deters us from feeling the lows that life brings, and learning the lessons that those experiences offer.

A mantra that my previous mentor Rachel Hollis uses was, “act how you want to feel.” She gets you to clap and repeat that mantra like it's a switch and you can just turn on the happy or choose a new mood. Another practice she uses is a countdown. You count down from 5 and then force yourself to move, dance, or jump up and down to create energy. Now in some ways, these kinds of practices can work and they can shift our moods at the moment. I’m a firm believer that our perspectives and mindset play a huge role in how we feel from moment to moment. I also still believe that it's possible to shift from a lower vibration to a higher one simply by choosing to.

These mantras and practices become toxic when we don’t come back to feelings we push aside. We can’t outrun these less desirable feelings or thoughts forever (as hard as we might try – myself included!) Instead, we need to connect and feel those feels and yeah that might mean having a shitty day. But guess what? You’re ALLOWED to have a shitty day!

Another area where I was influenced to act in a very positive way was my previous workplace. No matter how busy we were or how massive the weekly workload was we put on a smile. I once loved this leadership characteristic and I adopted it myself. By choosing positivity and acting bubbly and happy, things didn’t seem as stressful or overwhelming. But that wasn’t real, not entirely anyway. This positive environment instead created a reality of how we wished our workplace to look and feel, rather than how it actually was. What I recognize now is that we missed the mark in creating space where other emotions could also come forward. It helped make the workplace super fun, don’t get me wrong, but it limited how we connected as a team. There wasn’t space to talk about the uncomfortable – work or personal.

Now I’m not saying we shouldn’t reach for gratitude and joy, or that a positive work environment is bad. Not at all. What I’m saying is that we need to allow ourselves to experience our full range of emotions and not just the “good” ones. Our emotions are messengers and signposts guiding the way. When we ignore our emotions or only embrace the high-frequency ones, we miss out on key information and as a result, limit our human experience.

Here are a few examples to illustrate toxic positivity as work.

1. You live in a household full of people. You have your partner, your kids, maybe siblings, or roommates that you live with, yet you feel alone. What toxic positivity would tell us to do is to be thankful you have these loved ones. To be grateful they are happy, healthy, and near. Toxic positivity tells you that feeling lonely is not a legitimate feeling and to simply get over it. Instead, ask yourself why you are feeling lonely in a house full of loved ones? What this feeling might be telling you is that you are lacking connection or craving intimacy. If we practice toxic positivity we won’t understand or explore the deeper meaning of this feeling and then we can’t fix it.

2. You have all the material things one could need and you don’t want for anything, except you still feel empty. What toxic positivity tells you is to be thankful you have all these things– do you know how many other people don’t have this? You should be grateful. Instead, you might consider that this feeling of emptiness stems from not feeling worthy of the things you are surrounded by. This is a deeper wound that won’t be fixed by more stuff or by pretending we have it all. If you don’t acknowledge the feeling of emptiness you can’t address it.

3. You have a successful business, respectable career or prestigious role yet you’re always stressed and overwhelmed. Toxic positivity tells us first to be thankful we have a job and then to be appreciative that we are in the position we’re in. Do you know how many others would kill to have this role, make this kind of money, or be in your position? But it doesn’t matter how much other people want what you have, what matters is if it is what YOU want. What these feelings of overwhelm and stress might tell you is that deep down you’re unfulfilled. To force ourselves into a role we don’t fit in will only add more stress, and it is going to be hard to make it go away.

These examples illustrate ways we try to force a better outlook and then miss the deeper message our emotions are trying to tell us. The practice of toxic positivity can actually make us more fragile, not stronger as we like to tell ourselves. We say we are strong because we don’t cry, we don’t need help, or we keep showing up no matter what. These are stories we tell ourselves to ignore our feelings and to cover up that we are suffering. These behaviours become defence mechanisms, avoidance tactics, and they don’t serve us well. Eventually, we will become numb and miss out on the beautiful and messy human experiences we have been gifted.

Like I said I have embraced this positive mentality and put it on a pedestal. This is what I saw and still see in the personal development space, that gratitude and positivity are the keys to a happy life. I’ve been taught this practice and now in some ways, I have to unlearn it. I will still put on a mask and push past (aka push down), less desirable emotions that come up sometimes. But now I am more aware that these feelings and emotions are my guides. They carry a message for me and that instead of shying away I can get curious and be open to feeling it all. Without these messages, guides, or deep feels we will continue living that surface life of fake and false happiness.

If you’re curious and want to learn more about toxic positivity or your emotional experience check out this great podcast with Brene Brown and Dr. Susan David called the Dangers of Toxic Positivity. That is part one of a two-part conversation.

And don’t you think for a minute I won’t also leave you with a party jam, because music is life and no matter our mood there is a jam that can meet us where we are at. Today’s jam is one that I listen to when I need to get up in my feels.

With Gratitude


P.S. I have a small favour to ask of you. If you liked this post or any other previous ones I would be so thankful if you could share it with someone else who you think would benefit! We all need new things to spark a different way of thinking and maybe this is it. I wish is simply to reach more people and provide insights that might help them learn more about who they are meant to be.


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